Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How do you name your characters?


This question comes from reader Puneet Agrawal, who is wondering about a seemingly simple and yet quite complicated and important question: How do you name your characters?

Where do you draw your inspiration? What's your process? Do they just come to you or do you spend time brainstorming? Do you draw upon any resources, like baby name books or census data?

I'm personally partial to naming important characters after coffee drinks. What about you?

Art: The Gardener by Paul Cezanne






Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Page Critique: The danger of starting with dialogue


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique Event, please enter it in this thread in the Forums. Also, I'm offering personal consultations and edits if you're interested in that.

First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer up your own thoughts, please be exceedingly polite and remember the sandwich rule: Positive, constructive advice, positive.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to ria, whose page is below:
“We have damned the world,” Adriel said. 
“Come again,” Zachery said. 
They stopped at the pond, where Zachery fished some crumbs from his pocket and tossed them towards the ducks. Overhead, the shops and homes of the upper city clung to the walls of Drieh’s three lofty towers. A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees. 
“I’ve felt ripples of energy,” Adriel said. “Here on Altara. And in the netherial. I picked it up a few months ago, and it gets worse every few weeks.” 
He hadn’t felt anything of the sort, and his work relied on the netherial. “And what does this have to do with us damning Altara?” 
“I traced its energy signature back as far as I could and it originates with the Calamity. Something we did back then is building up to... something.” 
He let crumbs fall from his fingers onto the water’s surface. “This makes no sense, Adriel. No one else has felt anything. What you’ve described is impossible.” 
“I only brought this up because I thought you’d care. And I thought you might have felt something in your portals.” 
Zachery looked across the pond. A portal rose between the trees at the far end of the park, two slender pillars of dark rock curving toward each other with an arch of pure magic suspended between them. Anchor and focus, two simple elements that made up one of the most complex constructs on Altara.
There is some great writing here. This: "A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees" is just an awesome and evocative sentence. And the slender pillars of dark rock are also intriguing and mysterious.

I'm afraid I'm a little less sanguine about the dialogue. Here's the challenge of beginning with two people talking to each other: the reader has zero context to understand what they're talking about. They don't know who the characters are, they don't know what world they're in, they probably don't understand the references the characters are making to each other. 

It's sort of like attending a dinner party where everyone makes veiled references so you can't understand what they're really talking about. 

It's not impossible to begin with dialogue, but even if it starts that way it's extremely important to focus on making sure the reader feels very grounded in the story.

With a little more patience and anchoring the story, the dialogue will come alive. 

Here's my redline:
“We have damned the world,” Adriel said. 
“Come again,” Zachery said. 
They Adriel and Zachary stopped at the pond, where Zachery fished some crumbs from his pocket and tossed them towards the ducks. Overhead, the shops and homes of the upper city clung to the walls of Drieh’s three lofty towers. A few rays of morning sunshine dove through chinks between the buildings only to flounder in the gossamer fog among the trees. 
“I’ve felt ripples of energy,” Adriel said. “Here on Altara. And in the netherial. I picked it up a few months ago, and it gets worse every few weeks.” 
He Zachary hadn’t felt anything of the sort, and his work relied on the netherial. [More here on what Zachary is thinking about what Adriel just said in order to help give the reader context, as well as what the netherial is.]  “And what does this have to do with us damning Altara?” “I traced its energy signature back as far as I could and it originates with the Calamity. Something we did back then is building up to... something.”  He let crumbs fall from his fingers onto the water’s surface. 
“This makes no sense, Adriel. No one else has felt anything. What you’ve described is impossible.” 
“I only brought this up because I thought you’d care. And I thought you might have felt something in your portals.” 
Zachery looked across the pond. A portal rose between the trees at the far end of the park, two slender pillars of dark rock curving toward each other with an arch of pure magic suspended between them. Anchor and focus, two simple elements that made up one of the most complex constructs on Altara.
Thanks again, ria!

Art: Reinier Vinkeles by Charles Howard Hodges






Monday, August 25, 2014

What to write about when it feels like everything has already been written


This unnerving moment happens to every writer:

You finally get the nerve to tell someone your idea for a book. You describe your idea, you brace yourself for whether they think it's good or bad, but instead they say, "Oh yeah, that sounds like [X book]."

You blink a few times as your face flushes. Someone already had the same idea??? And the book is already published??

Are you now completely, colossally screwed?

No! You're not. Deep breaths.

There are hundreds of thousands of books out there. The odds that you will come up with completely original book that does not remind anyone of another book is pretty much zero. At the end of the day, originality is somewhat overrated.

Still, it can be disheartening to feel like you're simply retracing someone else's footsteps, and it may leave you bewildered. What do you do?

Here are some scenarios and what to do about them:

When all of your ideas for novels feel like books you have already read:

Keep thinking. Keep brainstorming.

If you're not feeling impressed or excited by your own idea there's no way you're going to sustain enough momentum to write a whole novel. When the writing gets hard it's only your belief in your idea that will sustain you.

Don't settle for an idea that you feel is vaguely uninspiring. Keep pushing yourself to find something better.

When it feels like you are imitating someone else's voice:

When you are just starting out, you may annoy yourself to death because you know you sound exactly like your favorite writer or the most recent book you read. You can't stop yourself from imitating.

This is totally, perfectly okay. Just go with it. Get the words out there. Don't stop writing.

What will happen over time is that you will gradually start to find your own voice. You'll start sounding less like your favorite writer and more like you.

And when you do, you can go back and rewrite the opening part where you were imitating. It will be much easier to go back and revise the voice than it would have been if you had obsessed over your voice from the start.

When you're writing a novel and then find out someone else already had a similar idea:

This is somewhat inevitable. There are tons of books already out there, we've been telling stories for thousands of years, and there are only so many combinations of events that can be shoehorned into a story.

The important thing to focus on is what makes your story unique. You need a unique setting, unique characters, and a unique style.

If the world of your novel feels very different than the previous similar book, chances are people won't even make the connection.

When you look at your unfinished novel and think, "Why in the world is anyone going to care about this with all the other stories out there?"

Have faith!

If every writer who experienced this feeling stopped writing there wouldn't be any books out there at all.

Everyone wonders why anyone would care about their book. Everyone has moments of self-doubt and feeling of futility.

Don't give into these feelings. If you power through and finish your novel you'll be immensely glad you gave your dreams a shot.


Do you ever have these moments of doubt? How did you get through?

Art: View of the Salon Carré at the Louvre by Alexandre Brun






Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Which book do you wish were turned into a movie?


Over at io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell ranked ten classic YA books she wished were turned into movies.

I wasn't actually familiar with those, but it definitely got me thinking. Which book do you wish were turned into a movie?

This is a tricky, tricky choice for me. On the one hand, classics like The Great Gatsby and Moby-Dick are difficult to transition to the screen, which gives me pause about picking something too literary. On the other hand, who knew that The Godfather would have been so elevated in Francis Ford Coppola's hands?

It turns out that some of my initial choices are already in the works, including Child 44, which is currently in production, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, which is rumored to be considered for a TV show, and Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, also in development.

Thus, I would have to go with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. What about you?

(And no, you're not allowed to answer "my own!")

Art: The Photographer Sescau by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec






Monday, August 4, 2014

Bill Watterson on life and creativity


I make no secret of my incredible affection for Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson, who on the whole is a pretty reclusive author, but when he speaks he makes it count.

So two great links to share. In the first, Fast Company pulled four great principles on creativity from his interviews in the movie Stripped.

And in the second, Slate reprinted the cartoon blog Zen Pencil's cartoon rendering of part of Bill Watterson's commencement speech at Kenyon College about creating a life that's in tune with your values.

Just about everything I've learned in life seems like it came from Calvin and Hobbes, from the power of imagination to our powerlessness on some days when even lucky rocketship underpants can't help. Bill Watterson is a national treasure.






Related Posts with Thumbnails